Note to Self: I forgive you.

What would your day be like if you forgave yourself?

There was recently a dust up about non librarian bloggers and the number of ARCs they were taking at ALA.  I’m not really going to get into the nitty gritty; but, one post caught my attention.  Go read that post and click to your heart’s content to get caught up on the issue if you are interested.  For this post, all you need to understand is that a librarian who happens to write a blog I read regularly, tweeted something that upset people and that she most likely regretted.  She apologized on her blog and then I’m guessing there was a pile up of chastising and shaming.

We’ve all done, said, written, tweeted, and/or reacted in a way that we’ve sometimes instantly, sometimes later regretted.

This is how to handle it:

Take deep breaths.  I mean it.  Try to think calmly and rationally and deter any panic you feel.  When you feel that you can make a calm and rational statement, apologize without excuse.  Just apologize sincerely.  Have a friend look it over if you want it double checked before you send it.

Now is when the fun begins because humans love to pile on in a big shaming scrum.  It won’t matter that you apologized.  Especially in the digital world, folks will weigh in on why you are mean, stupid, insensitive, wrong or a horrible person.  If you can, try not to read and respond to any of it.  If you have a trusted friend/colleague have them review the responses in case there is one that is insightful or worthy of response.

Some folks would think because perhaps you ignited the fire, you should stand in the flames.  I don’t agree with this at all, especially when there is little value coming from the response.  I think it is a completely legitimate and reasonable choice not to read it.

Next:  forgive yourself.  If you are spending energy going over and over and over in your head what is happening and feeling shame and regret, you really need to forgive yourself.  You need to have empathy and compassion for yourself and accept that you did it, reflect on how you would handle it differently next time and move on.  MOVE ON!  One technique for this “letting go” is to mentally label.  When ever you feel tempted to read the flame war or your mind starts fueling the shame, create a label you can say in your head that will trigger you to move on to thinking about something else.  You could follow up your label with a question:  what would I tell my friend if she were in this situation?  Whenever I suspect I’m judging myself too harshly, I always wonder what I would think if it happened to someone else.  I catch myself having more compassion for others.  I would never subject others to some of the judgey thoughts I think about my own behavior.

I think Jenica Rogers, author of the post in question, handled this quite nicely.  She apologized, took some heat and then wrote a post officially ending her participation in the discussion.  This second post is an excellent idea and her example is a good reminder that you are in control of how long you participate in the discussion.

Shame is only a powerful force if we allow it to have power over us.  One of my favorite TED people is Brene Brown, a researcher at University of Houston who studies, writes and speaks about vulnerability and shame.  She has created a shame resilience program that is being adopted by mental health practitioners.   She has spoken, what I consider to be brilliant words about vulnerability:

“Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

And on the flip side, remember this:  People do things, say things, write things that they regret.  Let them apologize and refrain from shaming.  Shaming is the modern day stoning.  It is hurtful and divisive to all parties involved.

Participate in discussions that create and build connection, inspire ideas and heal wounds.  I guarantee that you will find more joy in life and work.

Bridge Repair

Sometimes we burn bridges.  We might not mean to do it or at the time, we might not care that we are doing it.  But, at some point, we might wish to repair it.  I’m one of those folks that finds it hard to believe that a burned bridge can’t be fixed.  I suppose in some circumstances this is true; but, I tend to think that there are ways to repair these severed relationships.

Hopefully, you are not seeking the repair solely because you now need that person/connection for your own gain, though,  I think that is probably one of the top motivators for people trying to go back and fix something they messed up. Whatever the case, it is almost always in your best interest to repair damaged relationships in your professional life.  It’s best if you take the steps necessary to prevent these types of situations; but, even if you have burned bridges, there is hope.

So, how do you fix a burned bridge?

There are some steps you can take; but, your motivation has to be sincere.  Even if you are driven to repair it because you find yourself in a situation where you need to reconnect with that person, you still need to truly and sincerely wish that you handled things differently.

Bridge Repair 101

1.  Make two lists.  The first will contain a list of the things that YOU did to participate in the demise of the connection.  Next you will make a list of all the reasons why you did what you did.  If you did it right, the second list will be way longer.

2.  Take the second, longer list, read it over once, crumple it up and throw it away.  You are done making excuses.  Move on.

3.  Take the first list and break it down into individual acts.  Make a new list of the consequences caused by your actions.

Here’s an example from my life:  when I was younger, about 23 or so, I walked off a job with no notice.  I had reasons (excuses) at the time.  My list might look like this:

1.  went to lunch and never went back
2.  never called to let them know I wasn’t returning
3.  didn’t apologize when the manager finally called me 10 days later


1. store was left short staffed
2. manager didn’t know what happened to me
3. left coworkers in the lurch

4.  Use these two lists to script your apology.  Mine might look like this:

Joe, when I worked for you in 1991, I quit using a technique that I now find rather embarrassing.  I would like to apologize for walking off the job.  I realize that the retail Christmas season was just starting and I left you and my coworkers short handed during a very busy time of year.  I just wanted to let you know that I’m sorry I handled it that way.

If it is a more complex situation than the one I’ve described, perhaps you still work with the person or people, the strategy is pretty much the same except that after you apologize, you make sure that your behavior matches your new attitude.  If you have pissed people off by not being a team player or by being hyper critical of new ideas, you apologize and if the situation warrants you can even outline the strategies you are undertaking to change your ways.  From that point on, you make sure your behavior supports your apology.

This is sort of a simplistic sounding remedy; but, repairing a burned bridge is mostly about YOU being self aware and be willing to sincerely apologize and do the things necessary to build trust again.  I have an acquaintance who realized that she had burned bridges at the job where she still worked because she had trouble controlling her anger and she took everything, EVERYTHING, personally.  Do you know what she did?  She started seeing a therapist.   I can’t say that things changed immediately; but, I suspect that over time, things will change for the better in her work situation.  The self awareness that led her to seek help will serve her well in the long run.

When a burned bridge is keeping you from advancing, I think there is an extra step.  In addition to apologizing and backing your apology up with new behaviors, you can outright ask your boss what you need to do to improve your chances for advancement.  Sometimes, no amount of repair will change a supervisor’s opinion enough to give you a fair shake in the office.  Sometimes, people in management positions are vindictive or hold grudges.  It’s worth a try and in the end your attempts at improving a relationship will help you navigate future relationship with more skill.  It’s NEVER a waste of time to try and fix a mistake.


Zen and the Art of Criticism

by Jon Jordan via Flickr CC

Delivering and receiving criticism with grace is one of life’s biggest challenges.  Mastering this challenge has an enormous effect on your overall happiness and quality of life, both at home and at work.  And it can help you foster and maintain relationships and sustain healthy communications.

I was recently asked how I handled rejection of my ideas or direct criticism and it got me thinking about the role criticism plays in our lives. I came up with the following list of three  elements one needs to master.

  • Deliver criticism gently and in a way that gives it the highest chance of being heard.
  • Accept constructive criticism in a way that allows you to learn and grow from it and not just see it as a personal attack.
  • When criticized in way that is not constructive and could possibly be a personal attack, calmly view the criticism from any angle to see if there is any useful information in it; take what is useful and learn from it; and, most importantly, let the rest go completely.

I wish I could take credit for setting this as a goal and accomplishing it; but, I have to admit, that I was unknowingly trained in the ins and outs of criticism.  After 2 years of art school and 2 years of studying for a Masters in creative writing, which were both criticism boot camps, I became more adept at delivering criticism and thoroughly trained to hear criticism and take what I needed from it.

I’m going to leave the first one for another post and tackle the second two because learning how to receive criticism with skill can have a dramatic improvement on your work life.  It can help change your experience from negative to positive and help you succeed in a work world where developing emotional intelligence is more and more becoming a pathway to success.  It also gives you control over how painful an experience it is.

Accept constructive criticism in a way that allows you to learn and grow from it and not just see it as a personal attack.

I think it might be human nature, when faced with criticism, to immediately begin thinking defensive thoughts and many folks don’t just think them; they verbalize these thoughts thereby starting a cycle that is hard to break and usually results in no one being heard.  The first rule of receiving criticism is:  Say nothing.  Just listen.

When you refrain from responding immediately and focus on hearing what is being said, a funny thing happens.  Your initial defensive thoughts that were clouding up your brain begin to dissipate and it becomes easier to hear what is being said.  Then the constructive part starts because you can start zeroing in on the parts of the criticism that are helpful.

The second rule of receiving criticism is to back away from the personal.  You’ll want to take it personally, after all, someone is expressing disappointment with something you did.  Even if it requires a Herculean effort on your part to wrangle your brain past the personal, do it.  Nothing will be accomplished if you are taking criticism personally.  Ask yourself this:  if this was not about my performance, what would I think about this criticism.  If this is not a personal attack, what is this person trying to say?

The third rule is to filter out what you need.  I’d have to say that most people are not the greatest at delivering criticism.  So, when you receive criticism, you frequently have to weed through extraneous details, nervous chatter, and commentary that is just irrelevant.  If you imagine a sky filled with stars, there are always a few that twinkle and shine a bit brighter than the others.  I think of it like that.  Let the useful information shine brighter than the filler.

When criticized in way that is not constructive and could possibly be a personal attack, calmly view the criticism from any angle to see if there is any useful information in it; take what is useful and learn from it; and, most importantly, let the rest go completely.

There are people who are motivated by personal reasons to criticize.  They even sometimes take pleasure in it.  I think these people are rare.  Most people feel uncomfortable delivering criticism and would rather avoid it.  It is still your job to listen, pull out any bit of information that is useful and just let the rest go.  You need to follow the first rule above and say nothing.  When a person is motivated to personally attack you, there is no point in engaging in a discussion with them; but, there is also no point in not learning something from it.  It might be that the thing you learn is how to deal with a toxic coworker.  Or you might learn how a boss handles stress, failure or pressure from their own boss.  You are the master of you.  A coworker may push every one of your buttons; but, you get to choose how you react.

A few years ago, a friend made me make a list of the qualities I was looking for in a romantic partner and near the very top of my list was the following:  someone who receives criticism maturely and delivers it gently.  I think the same could be said about any of the people who pass through my life in a significant way including bosses and coworkers.  It is an essential life skill that when mastered will change the quality of your work and personal life quite dramatically.

How are you?

Today is our one year Civil Civil Servant anniversary!  Yay!  Cheers to me and all of you!

I want to take this opportunity to ask: How are you?  And I don’t want to hear “fine.”  I really want you to think about the question.  How are you doing?

When you stop to actually think about the question, it certainly ends up inspiring more questions.

  • am I  happy with the way my career is going?
  • am I happy with my personal life?  How is my relationship with my spouse/partner?  Have I invested  in my friendships?
  • what are my goals?  am I doing the things I need to do in order to reach them?

Those are just a few.  But, after those all die down, you are left with How am I in this moment?

In this moment, I am really quite happy with my life.  I’m accomplishing goals that I set for myself a long time ago.  I’m good with the people in my life.  I’ve gotten back into a spiritual practice.  I love my job and my home.  I love putting energy into this blog.  And in this very moment, I’m happy.  I’m writing this blog post sitting next to an awesome coworker; the sun is out; it’s not that cold; there is an art opening in our gallery today and those are always fun, interesting and …uhm…delicious (opening treats!) and I am looking forward to a lovely dinner with a lovely woman.

How are you?

It’s important to check in with yourself once in awhile.

And I think it’s important when you ask “How are you?” to others that you take the time to listen, just in case they don’t answer, “Fine.”

Ann Wilberton

I txt; therefore, I am.

photo: Steve Punter

photo: Steve Punter

There is a fascinating article on the NYT site this morning about the etiquette of using your smart phone in meetings.  The article points out cases on each side of the argument where the use of a Blackberry helped and where it hindered the task at hand.

If I had 15 minutes with Malcolm Gladwell, I’d quiz him on just when the tipping point happened.  When did it become okay to txt, surf, fiddle with a gadget during a meeting, presentation, lecture, whatever?

One person in the article claims that the txt banter between people at a meeting loosens it up and add to the creative productivity.  Maybe this is true; but, it seems like there is a time and place for this sort of loosening and when someone else is speaking is probably not the time.  I also suspect that some of this banter is mean spirited and then I wonder what type of productivity, team building, working energy that could possibly be promoting.

All of this txting while your attention should be elsewhere is based on the misconception that we can multitask.  Multitasking is actually impossible.  Juggling: yes.  Multitasking: no.  Our brains are only capable of having one thought in each moment…the speed between those moments can be quite fast; but still: 1 thought per moment.  So, in the time it takes you to txt the guy sitting across the conference table from you, you have missed something.

Folks that txt while driving think their eyes only leave the road for a moment; but, in that moment so much can happen.

Giving your undivided attention to someone, to me, is a given.  Anything else and you are signaling that there are other things or people more important than that person in that moment.

I was surfing the web one day and came across an online discussion about whether it is okay to use your cell phone to talk or txt while conducting a retail transaction.  The comments were leaning towards yes and this deeply saddened me.  What could possibly be so important you can’t give the person waiting on you a short moment of your time?  And if it is that important, then perhaps you should step off line and give your full attention to the conversation.  The consensus seemed to be that it wasn’t rude.  What?  How can ignoring a person who most likely has spoken to you and/or is waiting on you not be rude?  I’m at a loss with that one.

But we need to be connected 24/7 to keep up.  My kids need me in case of an emergency.  I can do two things at once.  Ugh.  Really?  I think most people who are txting a million times a day, kids included, spend almost no time having a quiet reflective moment.  I also suspect these parent/kid emergencies are more likely about what a kid should have for lunch or other questions the kid should be answering on their own.  Now, I’m not a parent, so it’s easy for me to look in from the outside; but, I do like to gently remind parents that, yes, they can reach their kid anytime, anyplace; but, the other side of that is so can other people.  I remember riding a bus in Minneapolis and overhearing a conversation between a teen girl and her boyfriend.  The whole purpose of the call was for him to keep track of her whereabouts.  She gave him a minute by minute run down of where she was and where she was going and what she was doing.  Hmmm.  Not sure about you; but, I definitely would not want anyone keeping tabs on my child like that.

But, I’ve gotten slightly off topic.  I’m a bit of an evangelist about this:  BE PRESENT in your life.  Talk to the barista who pours your coffee; thank the person who pumps your gas; refrain from txting and talking while you’re interacting with another human being.  There are times when it’s appropriate to engage in these activities and preceding them with a warning and an apology go a long way in maintaining  a respectful interaction.

And in case you were wondering or suspect that I’m someone stuck behind the times or am waiting for retirement while I blame the younger generation for all of our society’s ills:  I’m 44.  I am the new technology librarian at my library.  I only own a cell phone (no landline) which is a smart phone (google phone).  I txt.  I have a laptop and wireless high speed (Fios) internet access at home.  There are things I love about technology.  I just think we need to remember that there is a time and a place and in person, human to human interaction comes first.  Pretty sure that on my death bed, I won’t be wishing I spent more time on the internet.

Use Yer Ears!! Why we need to be better listeners.

photo: wallyg

photo: wallyg

It was another slide in the Sharon Salzberg slide show on Beliefnet that has inspired this post.  I find Sharon Salzberg’s writings so accessible and meaningful.  They are always gentle reminders of the things we know deep inside anyway.  There has been speculation that the Buddha’s last words were something along the lines of, “Be a lamp unto yourselves.”  Although there are different takes and interpretations of his last teachings, I tend to like the idea of Be a lamp unto yourselves because it is an easy reminder that the answers are within me.

Most of us know that we should be good listeners and that being a good listener requires effort and sometimes requires training ourselves out of the habit of letting our mind wander to compose our reply, our grocery lists or to discredit the speaker with silent judgment.

I recently met a new person at a conference.  She would be considered a regional library star and I approached her to ask about a program she was implementing.  She spoke for a minute and I listened very carefully because I was quite interested in her ideas.  When I replied, I shared with her some of the things I’ve been working on and thinking about.  I was excited to be sharing ideas with a colleague, brainstorming, riffing off of each other.  But, as I slid into about the 3 minute mark, I could see her wander off.  She was looking over my shoulder, giving me the death nod (yes, yes, yes, don’t really care what you’re saying) and clearly done with me.

Now, in her defense, I was not at my most articulate.  I probably rambled a bit.  But, she could have paid me a little bit of respect by showing the signs of actively listening to me.  The experience reminded me that I need to be aware of this in my own conversations.  I confess that I’d be reluctant to network with this person, though I would probably give it another go.

I’ve been thinking about this art of listening and what makes it successful and I came up with a couple of thoughts.

1.   When I feel my mind wandering, I’ve been thinking the word Listen!

2.   I also have been bringing myself back by focusing on the person’s lips moving.  It helps me.  You might find something else that helps you.

3.  I’ve been silently repeating keywords in my head.  I recently sat in on a meeting to organize a staff day.  The meeting was late in the day and I’ve been having trouble anyway with keeping focus.  As people talked, I highlighted their words: team building, inspiring, food, petting zoo, fun, laugh together.

4.  I have also had some success with some doodling while listening in groups.  One on one this would probably appear rude, so, I tend to avoid it.  I’m not sure why this works; but, for me, it does.

5.  When people come to me in my cube, I stop what I’m doing and I turn my chair to face them.  I find that even if they are to my side, it is harder to listen than when I am squared off, face to face.

Really listening is not always easy; but, the benefits are so great that we really can’t afford not to be good listeners.

Listening is vital to creating good working relationship; to helping you understand a person’s position on a certain topic; to hearing their ideas; to showing the courtesy of being present in a conversation and ultimately to your success in your job and in your personal life.

Listening is one of life’s necessary gifts.

Danish Police Hug Bicyclists! Spread the Love!!!

The most excellent bloggers over at Boing Boing recently posted this amazing video of the police in Denmark stopping bicyclists who were not wearing helmets, hugging them and giving them free helmets.

There are so many things right with this idea.  Can you imagine this happening here?  I wish it would.  I would love to see the police in Portland, OR or any other bike loving city, stopping cyclists, hugging them and handing out helmets and lights.  It would accomplish mutliple goals:  it would raise awareness of bicycle safety, help mend the sometimes strained relationship between the police department and the cycling community and it’s just great PR for the police department.  It sends the perfect message:  Hey, we care about you, please wear this helmet!

We probably can’t go around literally hugging our customers; but, how can we show them we care?  We can take the time to really listen and help.  We can try to say yes.  We can make requests politely and kindly.  We can make “going the extra mile” just normal practice.  We can smile and greet them.  We can thank them.  We can be fully present.  We can meet them where they are.  We can listen to their suggestions.  We can ask them what they need.  We can get rid of rules that are unnecessary.  We can create policies that expand service, improve atmosphere or in some way make it easier for customers to have a positive, satisfying experience at the library.  We can start our days with good intentions.  We can make a grouchy coworker laugh.  There are at least a million more things we can do to show them we care.

Also:  As a person who survived a scooter accident because I was wearing a helmet, please, please, please where a helmet when you are riding a bike, a scooter, a motorcycle, a skateboard, etc.  I care about your safety, well being and quality of life.

CIL : Social Awkwardness at Computers in Libraries Conference

I am at my first library conference in several years.  I’m always amazed at the challenge conferences present to my social skills.  I  like to think of myself as outgoing and assertive.  These conferences  give me a chance to rethink these beliefs.  I realize something about myself:  I’ll basically talk to anyone.  I can hold a conversation with anyone about anything and feel comfortable.  However, I feel quite uncomfortable about the approach.  I always do better when approached as opposed to doing the approaching.

Maybe I should set a goal of meeting 3 or more people during the next 2 days.  I am here with a colleague; but, I see people who are obviously traveling solo.   Would they like it if they were invited to dinner?  Or if I sidled up to them and talked techie shop?  I’m always curious about these opportunities for human interaction that come so easy to some and are so difficult for others.  I imagine that there are folks that come to these conferences alone and never really interact with any strangers.  Isn’t part of the purpose of these conferences networking with our peers.

I have never really been a good networker and I wonder how my career has been effected by this weakness.

Since I have been out of the library field for 3 years while I recovered from a scooter accident, and I am recently returned; I have really been evaluating my career trajectory.  What parts of librarianship are important to me?  What parts of being a librarian offer me the most fun and flexibility?  What is my niche?  I’m a techie but not devoted.  I’m more of a curious and practical geek:  is it cool?  How will it make my life easier?  How will our customers use it?  How can we use it to reach customers?  That pretty much sums up my filter.  So, where do I fit now?

I know that my love of librarianship has a lot do with serving the public.  Just the existence of this blog will give a clue as to the direction of my interests.  Before my accident, a friend and I were conspiring about how I could find a job that I loved.  I was working part time at a large library system and was bored and rarely challenged.  I remember so clearly what I said:  I need to feel challenged.  I need responsibility.  I need opportunity to spread joy.

I have friends who don’t use their public libraries because they claim that the librarians and/or circulation staff are unpleasant, mean people.  I find this hard to believe; but, then they relay stories to me about incidents they experienced or witnessed.  It is these discussions that prompted me to think:  for some people are we as painful as the DMV?  are we as unpleasant an experience as the Post Office can sometimes be?  What are we doing wrong that members of the reading public don’t want to go to the library?

This is why I started Civil Civil Servant.  I want to address the simplest, cheapest thing we can do:  be nicer.  Of course this is a simplistic answer; but, Civil Civil Servant is going to explore the nature of “be nicer” and how we can manifest and create an atmosphere that pulls people in instead of repelling them away; how we can create an atmosphere where staff are happy and that spreads to the customer.  Putting the civil back in civil servant.

Lesson in Snark: Meghan McCain Tells Right Wing Talk Show Host: Kiss my Fat Ass

It’s all over the wires.  I saw it here.  A quick synopsis if you’ve been on a trashy news boycott and missed it:  Meghan McCain is a political blogger for The Daily Beast and daughter of John McCain.  In a column on March 9th, she comments on Ann Coulter :

I find her offensive, radical, insulting, and confusing all at the same time. But no matter how much you or I disagree with her, the cult that follows Coulter cannot be denied.

If you haven’t read the whole column, you should.  She actually presents an interesting position about extremism within the Republican Party from a unique perspective, and a perspective we rarely get to hear.  The media love to show us the extremes from both parties because it’s more exciting and provocative.  Here is the daughter of a recent presidential candidate, a self proclaimed “new Republican” thoughtfully wondering aloud about the health of the Republican Party and the ideology she feels they need to leave behind.

Ann Coulter herself actually had no response which is slightly surprising.  It was right wing talk show Laura Ingraham who took the discourse to a new low when she said McCain was “just another Valley Girl gone awry.”  She then joked that McCain was rejected for inclusion on The Real World because she’s a “plus sized model.”  McCain responded on her blog:

Instead of intellectually debating our ideological differences about the future of the Republican Party, Ingraham resorted to making fun of my age and weight, in the fashion of the mean girls in high school.

Forgive me for cherry picking the most mature and thoughtful of her responses; but, go read the whole post here.  Her whole response is clearly thought out and raises some good points without stooping to snark.

But, it was her appearance on The View that has sparked the most web chit chat.  When left to providing an impromptu monologue on the incidents and without the ability to edit, McCain succinctly sums up with this gem:  Kiss My Fat Ass!

At first, I was a bit disappointed in this response; but, the longer I thought about it, the more I came to accept it.  For one, it does not attack anyone’s attributes, competencies or even ideologies.  It is borderline empowering and I’m pretty sure girls who love and accept their bodies are cheering heartily.

As a big, unapologetic Lefty, I disagree with Meghan McCain on most things (though Kudos to her for supporting Gay Marriage!); but, I welcome her voice to the political conversation.  Rachel Maddow has already proven that you can be wildly successful without having to resort to yelling and mean spirited, snarkish commentary.  I urge Ms. McCain to leave the ass kissing behind and continue with her thoughful musings.

I have an odd track record at the last couple of libraries I’ve worked at, of befriending the person on staff who I have large, serious ideological differences with.  At one of my jobs, I teamed up with a gentleman who was my age, straight and married, and deeply religious and conservative.  On so many levels, there were a myriad of opportunities for us to not only dislike one another; but, to keep our interactions to the bare minimum.  Yet, he and I forged a friendship and I know that more than one coworker called us The Odd Couple because there was nothing that could be seen that would bring us together as friends.  But, we were friends.  And it was easy to be his friend.

We found common ground: love of vintage clothes…it probably helped that I tend to like old men cardigans!…and mid century modern design.  Every summer, he and 3 of his friends would fly to another city to watch a baseball game and go to museums, eat good food and basically have a boy’s weekend away.  I loved hearing about his trips and on a couple of occasions I gave him advice about fun things to do in a couple cities.  I was given one of the greatest compliments when he said that if one of the guys ever dropped out he’d want me to join in.    Clearly, the logistics of this probably wouldn’t work; but, that he shared that feeling with me, to this day makes me smile.

I was enriched by my friendship with him and I would have missed out on this awesome human connection had either one of us written the other off purely because we were soooo different.  He accepted me just as I am: queer, leftist, opinionated, Buddhist and I accepted him without judgement.

What would happen to us if we removed snark?  What would happen to us if instead of fighting with put downs and exaggerations, we stuck to intelligent dialogue?  What would happen if the airwaves were filled with thoughtful, skilled debaters on both sides of an argument?

No one is going to listen to you if you are mean.  You can still be critical; but, delivery is everything.

5 Tips for Cultivating Good Work Relationships

telephone1 Painting: Betsy Boyle

1.  Communicate.  This one would seem like a no brainer; but, I’m always amazed at the lack of communication I find in the places I have worked.  Here is an example: Employee A organizes the adult programming for a library.  She has scheduled movies on a certain night of the week for a few years.  She logs onto the calendar to book the community room several months ahead and finds that Employee B, the person who does children’s programming has booked the same night for several months.  Employee A can move the movie night to another night; but, it will require training a generally elderly population into switching nights.  It will also require a rescheduling of personnel.  All of this is fine in the long run; after all, staff must share the facilities.  The problem exists because Employee B didn’t have the courtesy to just call up Employee A and have a discussion about booking the room and there by at least giving Employee A a heads up.  Now there are feelings of irritation and suspicion instead of one of teamwork.  Employee B missed an opportunity to bond with her colleague and build a relationship based on negotiation and support.  Do you think Employee A will jump at the chance to help out Employee B should she need it?  I doubt it.  Pick up the phone or wander down to your colleague’s desk and talk them.

2.  Set up your coworkers to succeed.  What I mean by that is if you are presented with an opportunity to make a situation smoother or give your coworker the information they need to successfully navigate a problem, DO IT!  A good example is when dealing with a customer complaint that needs to be handed off to the next person.  Take a moment, whether by phone or in person, to bring your coworker up to speed in an objective way.  You don’t have to bias your coworker’s opinion of the customer; but, you can give them all the facts and even suggestions for resolution if you have any.  If you need to forward a customer call to another person, take a moment to introduce them to the problem before allowing the call to transfer.  This is a win/win situation because not only are you building a trusting relationship with your colleague, you are also improving customer service.  There is nothing more annoying than calling a customer service line and getting handed off  a million times and having to tell each new person the whole story.

3.  Avoid office gossip.  This is hard.  There is always one person in any workplace that others like to complain about.  Try to avoid this kind of chit chat.  Although it may feeling like a bit of coworker bonding at the moment, it is actually planting the seeds of distrust in everyone involved.  If your coworkers talk about your other coworker behind their back, who’s to say they don’t talk about you when you’re not there?  And there lies the rub.  By not participating in these conversations, you coworkers quickly learn to curb these types of bitch fests while you are around.  They also begin to realize that you are a person that can be trusted to treat others fairly.  This is an excellent role to have in an organization because it puts you in a position of being able to help create a cohesive team and change a distrustful atmosphere.

4. Give when you can.  There are times in every organization when you are less busy than someone else.  If you see your coworker stressed from overwork and you have time, offer to help.  If you have an answer needed to help a customer, offer it.  In my library I’m seen as one of the techie people around here and reference staff have been known to interrupt my offdesk time to get me to help a customer with a computer question.  When I was younger, this would sometimes irritate me because I felt that the other staff should know these things.  But, now that I’m older and just more experienced I realize that we all have our strengths and roles.  Mine is to help people with computer issues that are beyond basic troubleshoots.  I’ve had coworkers whose strengths were in business resources, government documents and geneology and I was happy to pass the customer to them.  That’s teamwork and when the team is working together, the customer always wins.

5. Show respect to others at all times, even when someone drives you crazy.  This can sometimes be hard; but, it is really not negotiable if you want good working relationships with coworkers.  Deliver criticism gently and receive it maturely.  I’ve seen coworkers snap at each other, treat each other rudely and disrespect each other in a whole gamut of ways I had never thought of before.  I’ve had a boss who yelled and kicked file cabinets and liked to make people cry.  I’ve had a boss who never came out of her office even if the library was crazy and we needed her help.  I’ve seen coworkers treat nonprofessional staff as if they were idiots.  All of this behavior leads to a workplace in chaos which is always bad for the customer.  And it may be a cliche; but, seriously, a little respect goes a long way.

This is a good start.  I’m sure there are many other ways to build good rapport with the folks you work with day in and day out.  Some of us spend as much time with our coworkers as we do with our families.    We should take some care tending to these relationships.